Monastery of St. Catherine beneath Mount Sinai. Coloured lithograph by Louis Haghe after David Roberts, 1849 - Welcome Images via Commons Wikimedia
CAIRO – 2 September 2017: The experience of the Sinai mountains is like no other. Saint Catherine is a jewel located between the giant granite rocks of South Sinai Peninsula at the edge of El Tur Mountains and at the foot of High Sinai Mountains. Mount Catherine is the highest mountain in Egypt and exposes wide stretching views across the mountains and Red Sea.
Pic 1 – Mount Sinai also known as ‘Mount Horeb’ or ‘Moses Mountain’ - Mohammed Moussa via Commons Wikimedia
When driving there you will witness magnificent mountain scenery of changing shapes and shades. The place is considered holy and contains rich historical and religious heritage. Mount Horeb (also called Jebel/Gebel/Musa) is where according to the old testament Moses, after having spent 40 days and 40 nights in the mountains, was given the Ten Commandments.
Pic 2 - Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai - Berthold Wernet via Commons Wikimedia
The foot of the Mount seats the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The place is sacred for the world’s three heavenly religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The Monastery has been well preserved since its establishment in early 6th century which makes it one of the oldest monastic remote settlements.
Pic 3 - The Burning Bush, St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai - Monika Sleszynska
It was chosen to be built in the place of its existence, since 330 AD, Chapel of the Burning Bush, also called Saint Helen’s Chapel after the Empress, mother of Constantine the Great. The Burning Bush is one of its kind and believed to be the bush plant through which Moses received the vision of God speaking through flames of fire. A mosque was built into the wall of the chapel during the Fatimid period in the 10th century.
Pic 4 - Saint Catherine’s Monastery - Monika Sleszynska
Being set in a remote virgin nature spot, the monastery is a beautiful example of the ascetic spiritual dedication and commitment united with nature. It has been protected by political and religious leaders including Arab and Turkish Sultans, Prophet Mohammed, the Empress Catherine of Russia and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Pic 5 - - The Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai - Pierre Nicolas Ransonnette, engraver (1745-1810) via Wikimedia Commons
Walking through the pathways of the holy monastery is certainly an elevating experience. One of the most stunning elements of the architecture is 1,400 years old wooden door at the entrance to the church. The thought of being at the exact place where grand leaders walked through honouring the sacred land and structure is something one can not escape, but simply surrender to how powerfully touching and beyond ordinary life affairs it is. At the same time, it proves the caring human nature of the grand emperors in the preservation of a place considered so holy.
Pic 6 - El Tur Mountains are home to unique plants and Beduin gardens - Monika Sleszynska
There is no surprise that the place was chosen and well preserved. Anyone who has developed a sense of admiration for the beauty of nature will recognise that there is something deeply moving and loving in the land, mountains and plants of the area. The human ability to feel the elements of nature including the air, the sun, the water and the earth can dine in astonishment at the feel and beauty of the Sinai Mountains.
Pic 7 - The Fatimid Mosque at the St Catherine’s Monastery - Monika Sleszynska
Certainly Saint Catherine is a beautiful example of honouring natural and spiritual connections through the history and religions of human kind. The scenic landscapes, mountain air and kind local customs are just a few rewards which surely enrich each traveler. Altogether, the taste and sense of pilgrimage despite your background or believes is worthy of being called holy.
Pic 8 - Michael Miracle Icon, Sinai 12th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) via Wikimedia Commons
Hearing about the passing history of the places while standing at its stones is a very special experience. Being taken through the introduction and listening to the story of Saint Catherine’s life ending as a martyr and then appearing in monks’ dreams is a solid proof of what comes to creation from mysterious dream messages. The monks of the monastery had followed the guidance they received through their dreams to arrive at the place where her bones were found resting at the premises as sacred relics. The story continues to be passed and together with the place is a symbol of believing in higher powers, dream messages and the victory of human virtues.
Pic 9 - Icon of Saint Catherine. Painted by Viktor. Mid 17th c, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece- Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Commons Wikimedia
The monastery has an impressive important religious library. The monastery’s museum holds an astonishing collection of icons, manuscripts and religious art objects. From spiritual art treasures through plant and trees to architecture, the place is a wonderful paradise to contemplate the history of human kind within the religious believes.
The settlement is a place of pilgrimage throughout the year welcoming visitors from around the world.
Pic 10 - Sunrise at Saint Catherine city, Sinai - Monika Sleszynska
The monastery has not always been so accessible. Modern roads were laid down in 1980. The current transport links provide good and faster access from Dahab, Taba and Sharm Sheikh which makes it an attractive day trip. Today the visiting hours are usually from 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Pic 11 - Mountain Wadi in Saint Catherine, Sinai - Monika Sleszynska
Those who would like to experience more of the area can stay at the local mountain lodges. There is much to explore in the natural surroundings and culture of the berbers, the original inhabitants of the mountains. The mountains are a trekking paradise with stunning views, unique natural creations of cracks, water pools and wadis.
If you are longing for a reunion with the beauty of nature and a touch of culturing, Saint Catherine is a one of the world’s most unique locations to visit.